13th Apr 2024

Czechs unveil priorities for EU presidency

The economy, energy and external relations are the three priorities of the Czech EU presidency set to kick off on 1 January, Milena Vicenova, Prague's ambassador to the European Union told the British Chamber of Commerce on Monday (1 December), the day the presidency's website went online.

"Europe without barriers" is the motto the Czech government picked for its time at the helm of the six-month rotating EU presidency, a phrase they intend as an allusion to Prague's current free-market orientation, especially when it comes to lifting labour barriers between old and new member states, administrative hurdles and trade relations with countries beyond the EU, Ms Vicenova explained.

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Prague wants to focus on three 'E's, the ambassador said: the economy and efficiency, energy and external relations.

The central European nation will also put its own centre-right accents on the initiatives and legislation it will inherit from the outgoing French EU presidency.

The Czech Republic will fully support "understand" the economic recovery package put forward by the European Commission last week, "But we don't want to return to protectionism and excessive state regulation," Ms Vicenova said.

This marks something of a move away from the current EU presidency chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy who though also hailing from the right side of the political spectrum, has surprised many commentators by his embrace of government intervention in the wake of the financial crisis.

Another clear difference from the current presidency was revealed in the omission of EU-Russia relations from the presidency's third priority – external relations.

Ms Vicenova spoke of accelerating the enlargement process towards the western Balkans, of the Eastern Partnership and of transatlantic relations as core elements of the external relations priority, especially looking towards establishing relations with the new US Obama administration and the EU-US summit to be held in Prague in "late spring 2009."

Transatlantic co-operation was important not only from a political and economic point of view, but also from the perspective of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen scheduled for November 2009.

Expanding economic co-operation with Canada was also mentioned among the Czech presidency's external relations priorities. Ottawa currently hopes to close a free-trade agreement with the EU sometime in the near future.

Closer co-operation, but no promises on ultimate membership in the EU, would be the goal of dealings with EU's Eastern neighbours – Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and – depending on the political situation – Belarus. An Eastern Partnership summit, including all member states and the six countries is scheduled for shortly after the spring council, Ms Vicenova said.

Prague was hopeful the French presidency could conclude the climate and energy package by the December summit, the ambassador said, noting that her country was fully supportive of the current proposals.

There was only one Czech objection concerning the 100 percent auctioning of allowances in the power sector in electricity for countries such as the Czech Republic who has a 60 percent coal consumption in its energy mix. Such a move would make energy more expensive than in France or Belgium, the ambassador argued.

Ms Vicenova was confident however that an agreement would be reached provided Eastern European countries won a "phasing in" for their coal consumption.

Lisbon Treaty ratified early 2009

The Czech ambassador said she expected a "positive outcome" in the first weeks of 2009 regarding the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in her country's parliament, after its constitutional court gave the controversial document the green light last week.

She explained that the procedure was not likely to start before the congress of the ODS, the main centre-right party, on Friday (5 December) with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek running for the leadership.

Yet, even if he is to lose his party's support for this position, Mr Topolanek will still remain premier and chair the EU presidency, with the entire political class "very much aware" of the importance of this exercise for the country, Ms Vicenova added.

The ambassador defended the constitutional check on the Lisbon Treaty and expressed her confidence that President Vaclav Klaus would sign the document after the parliament's ratification.

Previously, Mr Klaus had suggested he might wait until the Irish had held their second referendum on the document, likely to be scheduled sometime in the second half of 2009.

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